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A Performer Forbidden Her Audience

ILANNA STARR, 25

I am an opera singer. It has been almost a year since I last entered a concert hall, performed for an audience, or had an in-person rehearsal. My industry has been forced to close all doors, cancel performances and wait.

I know this is what we have to do to protect artists, neighbors and loved ones. Yet, the uncertainty of when we will meet again in person has left me and most of my colleagues worried about careers we have spent our lives training for, and the future of the arts that give our lives meaning and beauty.

Today, my version of working from home means daily vocal practice, perfecting my diction in more than 10 different languages, learning new roles and repertoire, and creating and participating in virtual projects. All of this work, normally done in the company of teachers, coaches and colleagues, now takes place through my computer.

The transition to virtual life has rendered artists unable to make music with others in real-time and be heard, transforming the collaborative process of music making. Yes, technology affords some semblance of musical collaboration, but singing along with a karaoke track is challenging and confining, even after months of acclimatizing to this new reality.

I had taken for granted the fact that an audience would always be there to engage with, that I could make music together and in real-time with colleagues, and that I could learn and train in the same room as my teachers and coaches. This pandemic has amplified for me something I have long known: that my life has been fueled and energized by collaboration.

On my own, I have developed new skills. I have created a home studio to record projects, and learned more about sound engineering. I have grown my voice studio online and cherish the hours of the week that I get to share with my students. I have had more time to practice music that I love from all different genres and to better understand myself as an artist.

There have been so many days when I have been too overwhelmed by the state of the world to sing, days when words of encouragement to support fellow singers and friends are impossible to muster, and days when I have been consumed by existential questions and hopeless realizations about the future of performing arts.

But beneath these despondent moments, I believe that when our world opens up, people will pour into venues everywhere. So, though it would seem prudent to pivot and find a more lucrative career, I am more resolved than ever to continue honing my craft. It is extremely challenging to be an artist right now, but when this is all over my colleagues and I will be there to remind you of live art’s unique value—and how much you missed it.

Ilanna Starr is pursuing a Master of Music in Voice & Opera Performance at Northwestern University.